Playing His Parts: With Mike Ryan behind the scenes and on stage, Santa Cruz Shakespeare kicks off with ‘Much Ado About Nothing’
by Christina Waters
It’s been a wild ride,” says actor Mike Ryan of the past year spent shepherding a large Shakespeare festival from one incarnation into the next. No stranger to playing many parts, Ryan currently acts (sorry) as Artistic Director of the transitional Santa Cruz Shakespeare festival—and will be performing in this season’s Much Ado About Nothing. Ryan admits that his current full plate of roles—festival organizer, public outreach, actor, artistic director—has been exciting in many ways. “There are so many new opportunities for growing the festival, for changing it and improving it,” Ryan says. Switching back and forth from acting to administrating, the native Oklahoman notes that he never expected to be an artistic director. “But when the university closed the festival, either I had to let it go or knuckle down and fight,” says Ryan. “And if you don’t knuckle down and fight for the things you love most, then what’s the point of it all?”
Marco Barricelli graciously agreed to give Ryan some on-the-job training by sharing the responsibilities of Artistic Director during the festival’s last year. Now with Barricelli in the role of UC San Diego professor, Ryan is the solo act at the Festival’s helm. “Definitely a switch from acting,” he grins. Grinning is something Ryan does brilliantly.
“As an actor, I have to respond to fellow actors, to the director. The hardest part as an artistic director, actually, is not taking control—it’s relinquishing control,” he says. But he also admits that his heightened profile as a well-known actor has helped with other necessary tasks, such as fundraising.
“There’s always a new challenge in the theater,” he adds. “That’s what drew me to acting. Every day is new. Ultimately it’s about how to bring more and more of yourself to your art.” For Ryan, personal honesty is the key to acting. “Of course in the beginning of your career there’s value in emulating great actors,” he says. “But when you’ve acquired enough tools, then you can mine your own experience.”
Tickets on sale now for the 2015 season, which features three outdoor productions, starting with the wickedly romantic Shakespeare comedy Much Ado About Nothing, opening July 3; followed by David Ives’s modern adaptation of the wickedly hilarious 17th century farce, The Liar, opening July 24; and Shakespeare’s wicked tragedy, Macbeth, opening August 7. Plus, SCS continues the tradition of its intern-showcasing Fringe production with four performances of the wickedly festive comedy The Rover, starting August 18.